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NEW DELHI Jan 17, 2022 16:30

Prioritise children’s socio-emotional health over school learning

The pandemic has affected the lives of people across the globe. Although children are less physically affected by the disease, the same cannot be said for their mental health. Children of front-line workers being taken care of by their grandparents or relatives are subjected to separation anxiety and excessive worrying. Quarantined children away from their family and siblings are likely to have adverse psycho-social effects. Those who have lost their parents to disease and are staying in foster homes, suffer grief, loneliness, adversity, and are quite susceptible to developing post-traumatic stress disorder. 

At the same time, children are exposed to social media and gruesome pictures of disease and death that may overwhelm them with fear, anxiety, clinginess, inattention, and irritability. During adverse childhood events (ACEs), the body’s natural stress response may become dysregulated, predisposing children to negative health outcomes later in adult life. This stress can cause delay in cognitive development, somatic complaints, obesity, asthma, diabetes, recurrent infections, sleep disturbance, and even premature death.  

Other challenges during these times are closure of schools, social distancing, lack of physical exercise, and outdoor activities. The electronic media did come to their rescue during home confinement but not without its own drawbacks. A few vulnerable ones fell prey to the Internet and cell phone addiction and will have difficulty readapting after the crisis passes. 

The stress of parents who have lost their jobs also directly affects children. The tendency to argue, addiction, self-harming activities, and even suicidal tendency may be seen to an extreme. 

Owing to the psychosocial challenges faced by children, it’s important to note that the first step towards Interventions needs to provide for children’s social and emotional needs. Educators and parents need to understand that at this time, learning may need to wait and children’s socio-emotional health, is as important as the curriculum. 

Intervention programs to serve children and caregivers in these times should be drawn and implemented. For parents, programmes should focus on improving their parenting skills, being responsive, understanding children, protecting them from negative experiences, problem solving, and mentoring them. Skill-building opportunities and cognitively-based compassion training for older children help to develop their self-esteem, self-efficacy, and goals for the future. 

The need of the times is to listen, understand, reassure children, and make them feel loved and safe. Parents should closely monitor children for any signs of change in behavior and sensitively apprise them of the situation, keeping in mind their naivety. This will lessen the apprehension and help to tide over these tough times. Parents should spend quality time with them, regularize their daily schedule, do fun activities together to take their minds off the crisis, encourage them to do physical activity, and help them in their hobbies. Children should be kept close to their parents and family as much as possible or at least ensuring regular contact in case of adverse circumstances (hospitalization or quarantine of parent or child). Children may need extra love and attention. The future of the world depends on how strong and resilient we raise our next generation to be. 

Sandhya Awasthi is the Principal of DPS, Greater Noida. Views expressed are personal.